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Taking a vacation from technology

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this week when a headline made me pause—and click: “I almost let my journalism job destroy my marriage. Don’t make the same mistake,” it read. Although I’m no longer a journalist and I don’t think my marriage is on the verge of destruction due to my job, I do think my joy, my spiritual health and my life in general are teetering close to the brink because of the always-connected mentality of the modern world. And I know I’m not alone.

In the story on the Poynter website, one man makes this-not-so-startling discovery:

“You asked us to write down everything we did from the time we reached the parking lot until we left for home,” the editor said. “But by the time I got to the parking lot, I’d already been working for two hours.

“My day starts when I wake up and check my email.”

“He’s right, of course. Employees in news organizations (and, to be sure, many other businesses) frequently start working hours before they leave home. They also work while traveling to and from the office and they work some more after they return home, sometimes for hours.”

Although work is the main culprit here, it’s not the only problem. At night, after the dinner dishes are cleared, I’m usually working on my laptop, Dennis is reading on his iPad, and each child is on a device, usually working on homework in the school season or, during these summer months, Snapchatting with friends, prepping for college visits or keeping up with the day’s news. For myself, the full-time tether to work borders on obsession. It is the first thought in my head when I wake up, even if it happens to be 3 a.m. It is the last thing I think about before I drift off to sleep, and, when I try to meditate, my work To Do list ends up becoming my mantra.

Some of it is the nature of the job, but most of it is the nature of me — combined with the nature of the world we live in. Bad combo. Gone are the days when you put a file in your desk drawer, turned out the office light and put your work to bed for the day. Now your files are in the Cloud, your office is in your hand, and, rather than turn out the light, you simply switch to “Night Mode” to give your poor eyes some relief as you read work emails in bed.

With increasing regularity, I suggest to Dennis that we sell everything and move off the grid, although since I have never been a camper, this is probably not a good model if survival is my goal. But there is a grain of truth in that statement. It seems the only way to disconnect anymore is to do it dramatically, in a wholesale way that means leaving society as we know it, and there’s something wrong with that. We have to regain our collective balance when it comes to the technology that makes life easier, and often more fun, and the technology that makes us a prisoner in our own lives.

Toward the end of the Poynter story, the author poses this question and answer:

“Practically speaking, how can I decide when it’s time to stop working and call it a day?

“For starters, don’t wait until everything is finished—because it’s never finished. Right?”

What are you trying to finish right now? Has your phone become your significant other? How can you break the cycle? Summer is the time to find out. You don’t have to go off the grid for good, but what about for a week or even one day?

Try tying your technology fast to the Sabbath, and make every Sunday a technology-free day. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a call from a child needing a ride home from a friend’s house, just that you’re not going to get sucked into the work email vortex when you end the call. Step away from your device and give yourself a rest. The life you save may be your own.

This column originally appeared in the July 6, 2017, issue of Catholic New York

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